Brian Charles Lara, graced the game with imperious and eye-catching stroke-play throughout his 17-year-long West Indies career. The elegant left-hander developed a habit of piling up huge scores right from his early days: he scored a fine 277 in only his fifth Test, against Australia at Sydney, and would dominate most bowling attacks in years to come, but reserved his best against England, aggregating a staggering 2,983 at 62.15 with two scores of over 300.
The first of those had come in Antigua in 1994, where he went past the great Sir Garfield Sobers‘ mark for the highest individual score in Test cricket to finish at 375 – the highest individual score in Test cricket then. When Matthew Hayden bettered that in Perth a decade later, it took Lara no more than six months to reclaim the top spot, as he racked up a marathon 400* – the first and only quadruple in Tests, at the same venue.
Geraint Jones, the England wicket-keeper, who had the perverse pleasure of watching it all from the best possible seat on his Test debut, picks up the tale.
“It’s nice that everyone remembers my debut! Lara was special – I think we all read the script when we saw the way the wicket was playing and the way the Test match was panning out – it was also the same venue where he’d scored his 375 in 1994. I don’t think the West Indies had ever been whitewashed in a home series before and we knew that they would prepare a flat one so we couldn’t win every match.
“I had the best seat in the house for that innings and I’m able to say that it was my first Test match but it could have been so different. On his fourth or fifth ball, when he was yet to score, we had a massive appeal against him. Harmy was bowling and we all went up for the nick. In this day and age we would have definitely reviewed it, without a shadow of a doubt. I still give him stick about not walking, but he’ll never admit he got anywhere near it. That would have been my first catch!
“My daughter’s name is Sydney simply because of that innings.”
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) April 19, 2020
“The next morning, ahead of the second day, I was stood next to Brian when he was in the crease doing a bit of visualising. I could tell that he was a man on a mission. He was 80-odd not out overnight, and just looking at him, looking him in the eye, I could tell that he knew it was on his shoulders to get a big one. The pressures of the West Indies losing every match of that series was with him really. He delivered.
“We were down a few bowlers – Harmy had been removed from the attack for running on the wicket – so almost everyone had to have a go. Tres [Marcus Trescothick] bowled 18 overs! He cost me a world record for byes actually. The total had got to over 500 without me conceding any, I was standing up to the wicket to him, he threw one wide down the leg side and I couldn’t get anything on it. I had no chance.
“Lara’s innings was an absolute masterclass, though. He scored all around the ground fairly equally. I could have done with a deckchair, to be honest.”
First published in January 2017.